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Movie Night – ‘The Legend of Tarzan’ best of more than 40 versions

By Bradley Griffith

In another example of the fact that the creative minds of Hollywood are quickly running out of original ideas comes yet another re-make.  “The Legend of Tarzan” tells the same basic story of the character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs and the more than 40 Tarzan films that have graced the silver screen.  The difference between this movie and the others that have preceded it is that modern filmmaking was used to greatly enhance the finished product. “The Legend of Tarzan” is the best Tarzan movie yet.

Rather than beginning with Tarzan/John Clayton (Alexander Skarsgard) as a young child in the jungles of the African Congo, the movie begins with an adult Tarzan in England in the late 1800s as a member of the House of Lords and the patriarch of Greystoke Manor.  World leaders had recently decided at the Berlin Conference to divide the Congo between Belgium and Great Britain.  Belgium was granted the land where Tarzan was raised by apes in the jungle.

Rather than respecting the land and despite the enslavement of many native Africans, the Belgian government quickly ran up massive debts trying to build a railroad across the country. Tarzan is summoned to a meeting by the Prime Minister of Great Britain.  The Belgian prime minister has invited Tarzan to visit the Congo to see the progress being made.  Tarzan refuses the invitation until an American envoy named George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) convinces Tarzan that the Belgians are enslaving the native people in the Congo and together they can expose the Belgians to the world.

Lady Jane Clayton (Margot Robbie) had also spent much of her childhood in Africa and insists on accompanying her husband.  Thus begins a journey into the heart of Africa with Tarzan, Jane, and Williams alone and on foot.  When the Belgian forces, led by Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), raid the village where the trio are staying he is able to capture Jane, but not Tarzan, Rom’s true target.

Rom intends to trade Tarzan to a bloodthirsty tribe in return for access to the tribe’s vast diamond deposits.  Rom uses Jane to lure Tarzan.  He knows that Tarzan will come for Jane.

There seem to be fewer and fewer real adventure movies anymore.  The golden age of Indiana Jones and company seem to be mostly gone from theaters.  “Tarzan” is the first pure adventure movie released this year.  A truly great adventure movie brings about a sense of giddiness as you watch and makes you wish you were part of the great exploration.  While “Tarzan” is not a great movie, it does have the ability to make you feel like a kid again as he swings through the trees and you hear his iconic yell.

The most enjoyable aspect of the movie is the natural wonders of the Congo.  There are dense rainforests with amazing waterfalls and vast savannas with a wide array of wildlife.  The film feels less like a movie and more like a journey to an exotic land.  The natural beauty of the Congo is stunning.  For this reason, “Tarzan” is best seen on the big screen where it can be enjoyed to its fullest extent.

While Skarsgard makes for a good Tarzan, specifically with his physique, the role did not provide him with much fodder to show off his acting chops.  He communicates mostly through short, quiet sentences and grunts.  In contrast, Margot Robbie plays the best character of the movie.  She is strong, smart, and determined as Lady Jane Clayton.  She is as much the hero of the movie as Tarzan.

Let’s not forget the animals in the movie.  The gorillas dominate some parts of the movie and the special effects are top notch.  There are also memorable scenes with lions, crocodiles, hippos, and wildebeests.

“The Legend of Tarzan” is a rip-roaring adventure that grabs your attention and doesn’t let go.  If you’re looking for a good time at the theater, this is your movie.

Grade: A-

Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, some sensuality, and brief rude dialogue.